Nic is an Account Manger at Vovia that has recently discovered his inner geek. Despite professing his love for hockey, skiing, golfing and the great outdoors, he gets a twinkle in his eye when the office conversation turns to 'conversion rate optimization'. Besides being paradoxically sporty and geeky, Nic has a great love for puddle jumping—best to stay clear of him when it rains...

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Display Advertising: Serving Up Viewable Impressions

I recently attended the Interactive Bureau of Canada (IAB) Road Show and it really opened my eyes to some of the current challenges with accurately costing Display advertising. Specifically, I’m referring to how it’s common practice to pay for impressions by the thousands, but that there is no guarantee that people are actually seeing the marketing materials. Display-ads-SITE

Perhaps I should back up a bit… With display advertising, the client’s goals are often to drive an increased awareness of the brand so it makes sense to serve ads to as many potential customers (based on targeting options) as possible. Therefore, it’s common to purchase display ads based on a cost per thousand (CPM) impression basis. This makes perfect sense on the surface, but unfortunately there is a pretty loose definition of what an impression actually is.

You see, an impression can include an ad that is below the fold on a website, which means if people aren’t scrolling down on a page, they will never actually see the ad. Additionally, there are some sites out there that layer in ads through I-frames that are masked behind the actual site content… I’m probably simplifying this a bit, but the takeaway here is that there are a number of questionable tactics that can be used to artificially inflate the actual number of impressions that the display ad receives.

With the onus placed on buyers to check the validity of impressions that they are purchasing, there are currently very few checks and balances to ensure that the sites selling ad space are completely legitimate. This gap in the industry has allowed some sites to get away with these tactics and collect additional revenue from advertisers. I’m not trying to propagate fear by giving the impression that the entire industry is misguided. On the contrary, the conference encouraged me to do a little more research to see what is being done to remedy these known challenges.

Moving from Served Impressions to Viewable Impressions

There is an organization called the 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) that is working on new standards for measuring “viewable impressions” instead of “impressions served”; hallelujah! The concept of viewable impressions is the industry’s way of saying that we only want to count those display ads that are seen by a human eye. Google already offers the option to buy viewable impressions on auction or reserve.

This is only available on the Google owned display network and through using their “Active View” measurement solution, which is Media Rating Council accredited. Basically, the impression is only registered if 50% of their ad appears on screen for more than 1 second. This means ads below the fold that are never scrolled to will not count as an impression. The biggest challenge with this system is that the adoption rates by publishers are still pretty low as they essentially stand make less ad revenue from this system. So then, the overall inventory that Google has to work with is decreased. It just goes to show that although the concept of measuring viewable impressions makes perfect sense from an advertiser’s perspective, it’s a potentially less attractive option for publishers that would most likely have to cut some of their inventory.

Next Steps

Presently, it seems that our role will be to encourage publishers to work towards changing their model. The IAB references a technology called Safeframe that publishers can use on their site in order to frame display advertising in a way that, amongst other things, helps provides more insightful measurement capabilities. The challenge is making sure that publishers implement this technology, so it’s really up to us to question those that we work with on a daily basis and to make sure they have an implementation plan. Inevitably, it will end up costing everyone a little more, either in time invested or inventory sacrificed, to make the transition; however, it will also increase the accuracy in reporting for the publishers and therefore the agencies by proxy.

If you would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Vovia.